Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Theory of Apostrophe

A few weeks ago, I was ruminating on some abstract concepts in Drama Theory which led me to do some research on word origins.  What I stumbled onto may be of some interest.

Initially, I was looking up the etymology of the word, theory.  Here is my takeaway from that exercise in semiotics:

    Theory = תורת = Torat in Hebrew
    Theory of Truth = תורת אמת = Torat Emet = Epistemology

Now compare Torat to Torah:

    Torah = תורה = Customary System of Guidance

The difference between Torah (תורה) and Theory (תורת) is closing the gap in the final letter, changing the ה (Heh, the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) to ת (Tav, the twenty-second and last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet).

Umberto Eco says, "Whereof we cannot express a theory, we must narrate a story instead."

The stories of Torah are not completely learned until one has apprehended and deeply understood the stories and extracted the deeper underlying theory.  There is an unspoken notion here that, buried in the stories of Torah, there resides an underlying theoretical system of guidance, kind of like "rocket science" for human journeys through life.

Now compare "Rabbi" with "Rival" and "Rebel" ...

    Great = רב = Rav
    Rabbi = רבי = My Master
    Rival = יריב = Yariv = Adversary, Opponent, Contender, Antagonist, Rebel
    Satan = שטן = Adversary, Fiend

The Devil is in the details: Be ye not misled or deceived.

Sometimes we learn gladly from the Master, and sometimes we resist or oppose the subtle persuasions of the would-be teacher, thereby setting up a contentious antagonism.

The difference between Rabbi (רבי) and Rival (יריב) is in the details. The little י (Hebrew "Yod" which looks very much like our Apostrophe) is the tiny iota of difference that makes a difference.

In English, we use an Apostrophe to skip over some bits that can be safely left out.

In Greek Theater, "Apostrophe" is a stage direction where the Protagonist has a thought, notion, or emotion that he keeps to himself, without communicating it openly to the Antagonist. "Apostrophe" in Greek Theater means the actor "turns aside" to face the Greek Chorus to disclose, sotto voce, the otherwise unspoken thought, notion, or emotion that is being withheld from the spoken dialogue with the Antagonist. This corresponds to a "thought balloon" in the comics.


Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place de Rennes, Paris, France, 1895.

Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place de Rennes, Paris, France, 1895.
The purpose of withholding the "aside" is to avoid antagonizing the Antagonist in an otherwise shreklisch drama to the point that it would cause a breakdown or disruption in the continuity of the drama.  It is safer and wiser to skip over bits that are better left unsaid, lest they derail the runaway dialectical locomotive and end up as a spectacular train wreck.

Have you ever said aloud something that it would have been better to keep to yourself, for the sake of preserving the peaceable continuity of the illuminating dialogue?

I make that mistake all the time.  I never quite know when it's wiser and safer to keep my mouth shut.

Indeed, this very blog post could be one of those times.

26 Comments:

Blogger Higs; said...

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10:21 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

One of the reasons this blog is subtitled "Moultonic Musings" is because I make no pretense to doing rigorous academic scholarship here.

I rather enjoy kicking ideas around to see if they lead anywhere.

I hadn't considered "apostrophe/catastrophe" as linguistic analogs of "ascent/descent." That's a useful observation.

Your introduction of "transcendent" a day or two ago did get me to compare ascendant/descendant with transcendent.

I was thinking of "transcendent" as "going beyond the limits" to bridge a chasm between protagonist and antagonist, so as to find some newly crafted "common ground" above an otherwise non-negotiable chasm.

The reason I am writing these musings here on Moulton Lava is because, in real life, I have a recurring pattern of failed relationships and failed conversational dialogues where my dialog partner is on the other side an unbridgeable chasm from me.

If I don't throttle back and elide substantial portions of my thinking, I can reliably predict a breakdown in the dialogue (e.g. the train wreck or juggernaut metaphor) where things go to hell in a hand-basket (i.e. descend catastrophically).

Bridges, if they can be built at all, seem to take a long time, and one is evidently obliged to take it slow and easy, lest the whole enterprise collapse ignominiously down the fabled chasmatic pit.

See this thread in the Brain Cafe on Facebook for more background on where I'm coming from.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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4:27 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:44 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

There's a lot to chew on in your last pair of comments.

I liked the lightning bolt analogy.

Not long ago, I learned that the lightning bolt begins by sending down feelers that open candidate channels from the cloud to the ground.

The first feeler that manages to make contact with the ground then provides an upward path for the main surge, in which the electrons from earth travel en masse back up to the cloud.

This down-then-up model reminded me of the Chiasmus and Chiastory Model that I wrote about six years ago.

'Apostrophe' evidently has the advantage of avoiding a catastrophic "breach of expectations" (which predictably launches a shreklisch "liminal social drama").

If the social drama succeeds, it produces a Chiastic Story of the sort one might find in the Torah.

If the social drama fails, it adds to the collection of emotionally troubling unsolved problems that will have to wait for yet another day to in the sun (or gloom, as the case may be).

7:49 PM  
Blogger Rev. Benjamin Kite said...


One simple point that unfortunately lets some air out of the elegance of this all — the word תורה and the word תורת are the same word (torah) — the ה changes into a ת when the word enters the 'smichut' case or what we call in English, the construct case.

That is, when any feminine word in Hebrew ending in "ה" is paired with another noun, the "ה" turns into a "ת".

This is seen when "תורה" (torah) is placed with אמת (emet): it becomes "תורת אמת". Likewise "ארוחה" (meal) becomes "ארוהת" when paired with the word "ערב" (evening) to make "ארוחת ערב" (dinner).

The word itself does not change in meaning in this case.


8:17 AM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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11:39 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Can you explain why "Torah" is translated as "Customary System of Guidance" while "Torat" is translated as "Theory"?

How did the ancients distinguish between theory and story, in the sense suggested by Umberto Eco ("Whereof we cannot express a theory, we must narrate a story instead.")

In other words, if you have a theory, you can exhibit many observable cases (stories or anecdotal observations) that are instances or examples conforming to the underlying theory, pattern, or system model.

For some people, having lots of examples suffices to implicitly define the underlying model. But for those of us who are fond of Systems Thinking, we prefer to explicitly extract the underlying system model or pattern.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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12:26 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Theory is about how.

Story is about what.

What is the name of "about why"?

1:09 AM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:55 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Being a scientist first, and a philosopher second, I'd actually model what/how/why this way:

Theory is about why (scientific model or explanation, not ethical values).

Practice is about how.

Story is about what.

Philosophy, then, would provide motivation driven by ethical values. That is, philosophy explains the why of volition, not the why that explains how things work in the natural world.

I suppose it gets a little tricky, however, if one is reckoning unconscious drives and motives, rather than premeditated courses of action.

As a cognitive scientist, I'm on the lookout for scientific theories that explain unconscious drives and motives, where a person acts rather mindlessly, without the benefit of higher-order thinking.

As to Wittgenstein's famous quote, my version goes this way:

What cannot be spoken of in words must be dealt with by making funny faces.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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10:44 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Aristotle lived and died a century before Archimdedes, whom we traditionally credit as the first Engineer.

I suspect that's why there is no P in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

If you have a scientific theory, properly captured in a computable model, you can mathematically solve the model for best practices to achieve novel (and worthwhile) outcomes that are fully consistent with the discoverable laws of nature. We classify those worthwhile outcomes as "Technology."

Once you admit Engineering into the story, it makes sense to redefine "how" to focus on engineering. Then I narrow the focus of "why" to be the technical scientific explanation (the underlying scientific, technical, or analytic model) and reserve Philosophy to address the issue of human values ("yes we can achieve this or that novel result with engineering ingenuity and technical acumen, but is it wise to do so, or would it prove to be lamentable folly?").

That's the "But why would you want to ...?" question you singled out from the Facebook thread on remaining engaged with someone manifesting a pathological personality disorder.

This is the same issue of Jesus ministering to the sinful rather than safely preaching to the choir.

It's why I tinker on broken systems like old appliances and computers. Bringing defunct systems back to life is more than a pastime for me. If I can understand "resurrection" in the world of technological junk, I can better appreciate the process of healing brokenness in living systems and dysfunctional human cultures.

Daniel Dennett dismantled and demolished B.F. Skinner's Behaviorism 25 years ago in "Skinner Skinned." I call Behaviorism by another name that sharpens up the issue. I call it "Amygdalic Programming" which is a clinical term for obnoxiously manipulative bullying ranging to atrocious coercive terrorism.

My antidote for Atrocious Amygdalic Programming is to write atrocious song parodies, lampooning the lamentable practice of pain-based methods of controlling other people's behavior. I reckon the song parodies are themselves painful, in the same way that tickling is technically painful, but amusingly so.

How does satire, parody, and other subtle forms of art affect the unconscious, so as to artfully and gracefully awaken awareness of unbecoming practices (like beating people over the head to wake them up)?

I reckon Keats would affirm the view that the pen is mightier than the sword — a sentiment to which I would suggest that the electronic pen is a useful engineering advance in the service of Action Research.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:40 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Higs, I would be grateful for your insights and comments here, if you please:

1. Problem Solving Discussion Thread, Scene 1 with Karl Schulmeisters

2. Problem Solving Discussion Thread, Scene 2 with Karl Schulmeisters

3. Problem Solving Discussion Thread, Scene 3 with Karl Schulmeisters

8:08 AM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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11:34 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I'm glad to learn you're enjoying the Tsang lectures.

I regret to say I am not enjoying my conversations with Karl over on the Problem Solving discussion group.

He seems to be working at cross purposes to the goals of the group, but the whole thing has me frustrated and baffleplexed. I frankly have no idea how to deal with him in a constructive or functional manner to jointly solve a problem of mutual interest.

I'd like to invite you to participate there, if you are amenable, or otherwise request that you grant me permission to import your comments over to the group, with or without attribution, since attribution will almost surely drawn Karl here or to your own blog.

I've posted a new problem to the group, asking their help in solving the problem that Karl has brought to my attention.

I don't have a reliable character model of Karl, so I have no basis for working up a script for best practices for dealing with him. And without a reliable character model, I'm pretty much at a loss for employing the tools for thought from Systems Theory to construct best practices.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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3:29 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Not unexpectedly, the thread was a massive train wreck.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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6:50 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I had the impression he was projecting his own faults onto me, but it was such a bizarre distortion that I had no idea how to respond to it.

He's started up again, but this time, I'm just ignoring him. It occurs to me that the Null Response is probably my best strategy for now, since I don't have a clear picture of where he is coming from or what he is seeking in that discussion forum.

I expect the cancer will continue to metastasize for a while longer, possibly crippling the group in the process. I don't have a cure for cancer.

I'm bewildered by his conflation of ethics with dogma, and I have no clue what that authoritarian meme is doing in there, either. None of that fits any model that I'm familiar with.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:11 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

To post there, you need to be logged into FB. If you have a Facebook login, I can add you to the group.

Karl is in Paris, so he is on Central European Time.

Karl seems to be adopting the same vocabulary terms as me, but idiosyncratically defining them to be the antonyms of how I define them. That makes functional conversation nigh impossible. What I can't tell is if he doing it nefariously, as a lark, or if he genuinely believes what he says.

He's behaving like a classic Pharisee, ossified with frozen code, rather than conscientiously computing best practices from a living model.

I frankly have no use for dogmatic authoritarianism, and Karl would surely know that from our time spent together in Cafe Utne. So I am baffled why he is projecting onto me practices which I abhor. It makes no sense, unless he is playing a role, the way Satan is recruited to play an obnoxious role in the Job Story.

In Chaos Theory, Mitchell Feigenbaum was the pioneer who addressed the question of finding the threshold where a recursion flips from converging to a fixed point to entering a cyclic loop, marching off to infinity, or going chaotic. If you Google up Feigenbaum's study of the Logistic Recursion, that's the beginning of that line of investigation. James Gleick briefly mentions it in this short video.

Chaos turns up, for example, when laminar air flow abruptly transitions into turbulent flow. There are some nice web sites where one can explore Feigenbaum's discoveries about bifurcations from fixed points to cycles to chaos.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

The original comment thread may be found here

4:50 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

The above cache has expired.

The original comment thread may now be found here.

10:53 AM  

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